Peter Stanford: Passion should be a byword for 2015

Social enterprise and mergers are also things to think about in the coming year, writes our columnist

Peter Stanford
Peter Stanford

There is something wonderfully shapeless about the Christmas period. As if by magic, the rigid timetable of work, school runs and all the other things we normally have to cram in gives way for most of us to a blessed few days of lazing around and enjoying ourselves. And, hopefully, some reflection.

It is therefore appropriate that after luxuriating in this space where it is possible to think beyond the next deadline, we can return to our desk refreshed in the New Year with a set of resolutions to give shape to 2015. In this spirit of calibration, I'll be making a list. Here are a few things that are likely to figure on it, which might or might not chime with fellow trustees.

First, there's been some talk of passion lately – or, more specifically, the lack of it – in the new chief executive of the Charity Commission, Paula Sussex. Yes, we trustees have to govern effectively and proportionately, but I'm a great believer in passion. A trustee meeting is never a success unless at some stage we stray from the agenda and debate passionately a key principle behind out work. Let's all make sure there is space for passion in 2015, or else we'll end up feeling like cogs in a wheel, and that isn't why we give our time to sit round the trustee table.

Second, I'm going to try – and it will be an effort – to look more kindly on social enterprises. I do shrink from the profit motive entering the world of philanthropy, but the world is changing and I need to adapt to it - not the other way round. And I've come across some pretty impressive social enterprises of late.

Third, I will keep banging the drum about mergers. I was pleased to see that Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign, two high-profile organisations, chose recently to join forces. I know there were financial considerations that pushed them into making the step, but good often comes out of bad, and plenty of other charities that double up on the same work are feeling the pinch at the moment. We need to stop seeing merger as a dirty word.

Finally, I intend to redouble my efforts in what can often seem like an unwinnable cause – to persuade the public and private donors alike that any charity worth its salt has to spend some money (albeit not too much) on core costs. To which end, I vow never again to utter those weasel words "all your donations will go direct to recipients". We've got to stop being ashamed of spending money to ensure that donations are well-targeted, reach the people most in need and are then fitted into a programme of support, rather than being just a one-off gesture. Charities must have passion, yes, but they also need expertise. And that doesn't always come free of charge.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, and was a charity chair for more than 20 years

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